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My thoughts on the ECEC 2022

Europe‘s largest conference on compliance and ethics

On October 11 and 12 2022, the ECEC took place for the third time. ECEC stands for European Compliance and Ethics conference and this year, even though (or because) it was held entirely virtually due to COVID 19 concerns, there were more than 7500 attendees. Without a doubt, the interest in ethics and compliance is bigger than ever before.

This year I did not attend as a speaker (would also be quite boring if the same people spoke every year, but you can check out my talk from 2021 in German). I joined the conference from the comfort of my home, looking for inspiration, new insights and trying to connect and network through LinkedIn.

There are three major take-aways I would like for all Compliance people to be aware of. And just to make things clear, I will obviously attend ECEC again next year and highly recommend you do so as well even you do not primarily work in the compliance industry, using this link. It's really worth it.

Governance is paramount for the ESG stategy

I myself have been telling all the managements that I have worked for or with that the “G” that stands for “Governance” in ESG, next to Environment and Society, is essential part of any credible ESG strategy. Oftentimes, it seems like companies only want to address obvious “E” or “S” matters through CO2 offsetting or maybe through donations or sponsoring of community activities. Having a “carbon neutral” label or using donations to refugee organizations or animal shelters looks good on the outside, it is easily to digest for third parties and it will likely increase your reputation as a sustainable company.

However, setting up governance structures that help to foster a company culture characterized by ethical behavior, implementing whistleblowing processes to early detect things that are going wrong, making sure people can be held accountable and increasing overall transparency, trust, respect and honesty among employees and towards third parties is just as important. If your company does not have a strong back bone, how is any of its activities supposed to be sustainable? The actual product or service cannot be sustainably delivered if the firm is involved in a severe compliance violation, as both financial and reputational damage will affect the output. Plus, any other environmental or social activities as part of a ESG strategy will also be interrupted as the focus will be on mitigating the damage caused by the compliance violation. Getting the “G” right is paramount not only for sustainable cash flow but also for being able to continue with all other “E” and “S” projects. And to get the governance structures right, Ethics and Compliance Management is indispensable. Obviously, every company needs to find their style and design the Compliance Management in a way that works best for them (I can help).

A culture of ethical behavior needs active fostering

Also, I often hear people in management positions say that they believe their company culture is very good and that there is no need to actively shape “ethical behavior”. I keep telling them that’s an illusion and was happy to attend a session about diversity and Compliance on the second day where the main message was: Diversity is about culture and culture needs active fostering.

And I could not agree more. Creating a sound speak-up culture is key for an inclusive culture at every level. Compliance processes support both HR and leadership teams in creating this culture, last but not least through assessing the response to these culture shaping actions, to enforce compliance with rules that support equality, trust and transparency and to ensure accountability. I wish especially management would understand that ethical behavior as basis of their company's culture is not just given, it needs active shaping. People need to be shown that they work in a safe environment, that they are valued, supported and treated with respect so that they also develop the courage to speak-up and report potential compliance issues. Whistleblowing, or even actively participating in discussions, is a big deal for the individual and has to be properly supported. Also, especially in companies that have a very diverse employee body, the co-existence of all these different cultural backgrounds, believes and experiences, not to mention language barriers and communication issues when “getting lost in translation”, need to be thoughtfully and actively managed. How many times have I heard things like "of course we all behave ethically, that's a no-brainer and nothing we need to work on (i.e. "spend money on")...." I believe that is in 99% of the cases a really big case of mislead self-perception.

The presentation on diversity and Compliance resonated also with me personally as earlier this year I hosted this wonderful panel, discussing the role of Compliance in the context of equality, suggesting that the Compliance Team of a company might have a special responsibility when it comes to managing diversity at a company:

Quality of communication matters

The third big takeaway is related to the organization of the conference itself. I really liked the virtual set-up, the hostess was great and the interface of the mobile application also very intuitive. However, in some cases where the speakers gave their presentation at home or somewhere else but not at the studio in Munich, the sound quality was sometimes quite poor. It made it strenuous and annoying at times to listen to the talk which was a pity every single time, because the topics itself where surely very interesting. Why am I mentioning this? Just to build a bridge to this general recommendation:

If you want to reach people with your compliance message, may it be during a training, with video messages or (especially) through e-learnings, make sure it is as easy and comfortable as possible to absorb the information. Endlessly long Power Point presentations overloaded with text, unattractive e-learning formats or trainings that are rather off-the-shelf (read: bought) and not customized to your company-specific and cultural needs will just not be as effective. It is not necessary to spend a lot of money on tools, just spend some time instead to think about how to keep things simple but straightforward and maybe even fun. Because then all these people who have that twisted idea that Ethics and Compliance is either boring, unnecessary, not relevant or a road-block might change their minds eventually. Compliance is about culture and culture is about communication.

So: I am looking forward to all future communication opportunities, including during the ECEC 2023 (maybe even non-virtual then).

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